How to photograph food and become an Instagram master

Food photos, the scourge and joy of Instagram, making us hungry and happy at the same time.

While we might scoff at those who can't manage a 4pm trip to Starbucks without snapping and sharing, that doesn't stop us doing exactly the same. Because everyone wants to see our beans and potato smileys dinner, right?

But making sure your food photos are good enough to stand out from the meal-sharing crowd takes skill. Here are our pro tips for perfect brunch bragging.


You want to take a picture of something, you make sure it's bathed in light, right? Wrong. Instead of hunting out areas of brightness, slide your grub into the shade.

"The most simple way to light food is by reflecting light into your subject," Hugh Johnson, food photographer for celebrity chefs including Heston Blumenthal, told Digital Spy. "You don't want direct light. It's much better to have your food in a relatively subdued light and use reflections.

"If you have a light reflecting at a 90-degree angle, you know the food will have highlights in it, and when you have highlights, you have detail."


If you're turning off the lights, you're going to want to make sure that your camera's still able to take in enough light that your shots aren't a dark, distorted mess. You can do this by opening the aperture (the bit that lets in the light) to its widest point. Many cameras will do this by themselves on auto mode, but you should be able to crank it up manually too.

"Shoot the food at the widest aperture possible," Johnson advises. This is when the hole within the lens is at its widest so more light can travel through. By doing this you will soften the background of the shot to give you that pin-sharp focus on the food."


While food will be the focal point of your shots, it doesn't have to be the sole subject of the image. Props can be used (sparingly) to add a bit of personality, direction and even narrative to your snaps. And you thought you were just bragging about how good that pulled pork bap looked.

"You want to choose props that look good," Johnson told us. "If you put a fork on the side it suggests that the food is for the viewer. That can become very staged though. Sometimes it's good to add two forks which suggests the food is to be shared, or, more casually, you have a load of cutlery in the back of the shot to show that everyone can help themselves.

"To take a good food picture, you need good food, yes, but you also need good props and you need to crop things properly."


While throwing in a fork or two into the frame can help bring your food photos to life, you really don't need to do it every time. Remember, the food should still be the focus. Although props can enhance an image, they can destroy it too, so Johnson warns to use them sparingly.

"Make sure you keep things simple," he said. "The biggest mistake professionals and amateurs make is overcomplicating a shot."


A plate's laid before you, you whip out your phone, take a quick snap and then dig in because you're already salivating. Take a second though, get out of your seat and make an effort to try some different angles. Your followers will quickly get tired of the same static shots.

"You have to get down low, you have to bend, you have to get up high," 2016 Sony World Photography Awards finalist, Peter Dench, told us. "You have to move around. Don't just stand up and take a picture, see how it looks from as many angles as you can."


Well, you don't want it going cold. Food is at its best – both in terms of taste and visually – when it first hits your table, so you'll have to be speedy if you're to get the best images.

"Often images are on my website, and the food is still steaming on the plate," Johnson explains. "The longer you take to photograph it, the more it will dry out, it will wilt, and you lose the spontaneity.

"If you have hot food, when it cools it congeals and goes matt. If you've got a lettuce leaf, when it's shiny it's fresh, when it's cold it goes matt. The quicker you can do it, the better."


If you're dining with your mum you'll probably still get a slapped wrist, but it's time to forget those childhood lessons and get finger-friendly with your meal. Playing with your food can let you manipulate your meal to make it as visually impressive and impactful as possible.

"Don't be afraid to change the placement and the look of the food," Johnson encouraged. "For example meat may look better cut in half to show its pink interior and interesting textures."


It's not just elbows at the table you've got to worry about at meal times. If you're going to be snapping your food you're going to want to keep them tucked into your body too. Why? As Johnson explains, it's got nothing to do with eating etiquette or table manners: it keeps the camera steady and turns your body into a human tripod.

"Keep your elbows tucked into your body when taking a photo to keep the camera steady and to minimise distortion.